I surprise myself sometimes. I suspect all of us do. Those decks that you thought you really didn’t like, that you would never – in a million years – like, can suddenly catch you out. It can happen at any time. You are struck down and repentent. It happened to me with the revamped edition of the Gilded (no, not Guilded) Tarot, that mainstay of favourite decks, the one that comes up first when you cast the net open wide on amazon, throw out your arms and search simply for “tarot.” It is – I imagine – the modern deck that outsells the rest and nobody should begrudge it that, but I have a peculiar relationship with the original Gilded Tarot. It was one of those decks I could never really warm to. I couldn’t understand how seasoned readers found it so welcoming, so readable. The real, photo-collaged faces didn’t express any light or life for me, the jewel-like colours were never quite jewel-ish enough for me. I felt short-changed on the opulence which – via the name and the trompe–l‘œil gemstones – it promised to deliver. I only really started sitting up and taking note of Ciro’s work when I took a gamble and paid a fairly high price (though prices have since become higher) on the Special (glossy) Edition of the Tarot of Dreams. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about and was impressed. I made a mental note to henceforth watch the development of Ciro’s artwork more closely, though the Llewellyn edition of the Legacy of the Divine Tarot passed me by. The Oracle of Dreams subsequently made me sit up and take note again, and then – almost immediately (or was it simultaneously?) – there was news of him reworking the Gilded. My tarot tastes intrigue me; I have a morbid urge to deconstruct and dissect and find out why certain decks don’t appeal, so the Gilded Royale was always going to be on my list of decks I really needed to see up close. It’s not enough just to say, as many do, “I don’t like the artwork”. I was a little envious, I confess, when I saw those photos from the Readers’ Studio in New York with the very first copies of the Gilded Royale in various hot hands and vowed to get myself one as soon as possible. I was delighted when, soon after, I was able to buy one off someone who had bought one of the first 200 copies that came with a printed reading cloth. I have enough spread cloths in my life but the collector in me jumped at the chance of getting one of the first 200 (plus I didn’t have a Ciro Marchetti reading cloth so that would be a first.)
When it arrived I was gobsmacked. As a product it was unsurpassably top-notch; sturdy box, excellent cardstock, sharp images, richly coloured (now we’re talking jewelled), gilded edges, a deck to last a lifetime. Moreover, as a tarot deck for reading it was equally superb. Everything about it was flawless. A few months on and I really should be using the present tense as it continues to be all of these things and more, one of my most vivid reading decks. There is something about the luminously unreal colours. I don’t think I have ever seen colours this vibrant on anything. Not tarot decks, not illustrations, not fabric. In fact, not on anything at all. I look at the Knight of Pentacles or the Page of Swords and think “this is how colours of the court must have looked to medieval peasants who lived in browns and greys and then suddenly came face to face with the sumptuous gowns of the Doges of Venice or a royal wedding in Mantua or Toledo.” The colours really knock you out. I like the artificiality of them and the impossibly dazzling light flowing in at the windows, flashing on the horizon. In readings, the colours reach a level of near abstraction which is hard to describe and which really seems to work for me.
Is this what others have felt about the traditional Gilded all these years? Funnily enough, in this deck, it is the more negative cards which are the most beautiful – the Three of Swords, Death (with its fluttering banners), the Nine of Swords. In the case of the Three of Swords, even though we have seen that pierced heart so many times, this version brings a symmetry, harmony and beauty that – really – no other versions have. That heart could be marzipan, that’s how much I love it. The deck in its entirety feels streamlined and the themes that I always felt I should love “in theory” in Ciro’s decks come alive here and make more sense, most notably the brass and mechanical contraptions, the luxuriant foliage, the skies, the courtly regalia, the mischievous wildlife. This really is one of the most captivating reading decks around and one of my favourite releases this year. Or rather, the deck that most surprised me. I love how it has made me look anew and see that an unloved (admittedly rather wooden for me) deck really can be honed to perfection and injected with new life and passion and suddenly feel miraculously readable. I’m so glad that he revisited this deck and gave it the treatment it deserved now that his technique and tools have advanced so much in the intervening (eight?) years. True, much of its success is due to the extremely high quality of production, the stiff, gilt-edged card with just the right amount of gloss (ie, not much), so I’m doubly glad that production was in the hands of the artist and not a mainstream publisher. I cannot imagine a mass market edition using this cardstock and maintaining the intensity of these colours. Let this be a lesson all round. I’m so glad that – at last – I can see the magic.